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The Web Wants To Know: Where Are The 4,000 Missing Americans In Haiti?

Jose Antonio Vargas   |   January 30, 2010    5:12 PM ET

"Why are we not in shock that 4000 US citizens are missing in Haiti? Why is this story underreported?"

That was the message Andrew Rasiej tweeted his followers Friday night. He was watching a quick news report that mentioned the 4,000 statistic while riding a cab; segments from the local ABC News affiliate are played inside cabs here in New York City. He searched and searched for more stories on missing Americans online but couldn't find any.

"If 4,000 Americans were under the rubble in some American city, people in the U.S. would be up in arms," Rasiej told HuffPostTech in a phone interview. Founder of the annual tech/pol conference Personal Democracy Forum, he's one of the foremost thinkers in the intersection of tech and politics. A few weeks ago, Rasiej attended a small dinner hosted by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton that included the likes of Google CEO Eric Schmidt and Twitter founder Jack Dorsey.

"A lot of questions need be to asked," Rasiej continued. "Is this being under-reported because it's too painful? Is it because of racism? Is it because of lack of information?"

For the record, 2,973 victims and 19 hijackers died from the Sept. 11th attacks. So far, more than 170,000 Haitians have died from the earthquake, and the death toll is estimated to reach as high as 200,000. According to reports, at least 1 million are homeless.

Nearly three weeks after Haiti's devastating earthquake, the U.S. State Department is still looking for 4,000 American citizens. Many of them might have died, some perhaps still missing, others may have been already found. During past natural disasters such as the Indonesian tsunami, relatives of missing Americans contacted the State Department to report their missing loved ones. Once the missing were found, however, some relatives did not call back to update the State Department of their status. That may be the case for some of the missing American citizens in Haiti. But only some.

Laura Tischler, a State Department spokesperson, would not speculate on the status of the 4,000 missing Americans.

"The U.S. government is doing everything possible to identify and locate American citizens who were victims," Tischler said in a phone interview. "We will work to account for every single U.S. citizen reported missing until every possibility is exhausted. And we know this process will continue for months."

The Web is flat. Online, using social media, we've become each other's witnesses -- both in spreading the news of the Haitian earthquake and in responding to the tremendous need. It's the emergence of global citizen 1.0. Imagine how much longer it would have taken to raise funds for Haiti without the use of text messaging. And social media is still focused on Haiti. As Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism reported last Thursday, Twitter and YouTube users are still spreading news on the ravaged and reeling nation. Since the earthquake hit on Jan. 12, #Haiti has been a top trending topic on Twitter.

"Twitter allows people to state what concerns them most, and then it makes it easy to aggregate those concerns. In many ways, it's more effective them blogs in focusing attention on the problem."

Rasiej should know. His tweet about Haiti Friday night ended with "Please RT."

And Twitterers have.

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